The Vancouver Canucks are one of the teams that should be a perennial contender. They have everything. They are in a hockey market in British Columbia. They have an owner that allows them to spend to the cap. They have a strong fan base. They even have an arena that is in good shape and has solid ice.

The one thing they don’t have is leadership. Roll the clock back a little bit to the Canucks Stanley cup final appearance against the Boston Bruins. They had a post season run that included more than their fair share of luck, which is true of any team that isn’t a juggernaut. They played their best when they had a gentlemanly game against an opponent who was playing a soft game. As a team, they could not play with both skill and grit. If they got grimy they lost and lost big. When Brad Marchand used Daniel Sedin as a living speedbag, and neither Sedin nor anyone else did a damn thing. In the final game, two skaters showed up for the game. he hobbled Kesler and exhausted Bieksa.

Having seen that game, and that series, Gillis did nothing. Same coach, same roster next year and they get run from the playoffs even earlier. And then Gillis went looking for tough guys who can’t play, and traded guys like Hodgson that can play top six minutes and contribute. It was obvious two years ago that the Sedin’s were on the decline, age, on ice performance, and the general history of offensive production from forwards told you they were at or past peak. What happened? The Sedin’s were given a raise and no movement clauses.

Two years ago, the Vancouver Canucks had two number one goaltenders. The juggling and indecision turned them, at least temporarily, into number two goalies. Then they were both traded. Both were traded for far below their market value. The young, athletic and level headed Cory Schneider was flipped for a single first round draft pick. Roberto Luongo was just dealt for pocket change.

How does Mike Gillis still have a job? Do the owners just consider the Canucks a really expensive hobby? Is there no one above Gillis with a lick of hockey sense? It simply isn’t possible to look at the moves made by Gillis lately and say “Yeah, that makes the team better.” John Tortorella is a great coach. He’s also an awful fit for the roster that was in place when he was hired. David Booth, Tom Sestito, Zach Kassian, Yannick Weber, and Zach Hamill are not the acquisitions that are going to put a team over the top. Not with the wrong coach, not with the declining top scorers.

The longer I live and the more of the world i see, the harder it becomes for me to disbelieve in magic. But since I can’t think of any rational reason for Mike Gillis to still have a job; magic it is. Your move Aquilini’s, your move.

This irregular feature will run when I get bored. It will ask one scintillating question about each NHL team.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Can this team take advantage of its abundance of youth to compliment its savvy and skilled veteran core?

Boston Bruins: Is there a single hockey observer anywhere who doesn’t think the team is dangling Matt Bartkowski for trade?

Buffalo Sabres: So ah, how about those Buffalo Bills?

Calgary Flames: Are you the one non Flames fan or executive who expected the team to start the season 2-0?

Carolina Hurricanes: Isn’t it great that the Canes put in a great effort for their goaltender Cam Ward opening night and only allowed 38 shots on goal?

Chicago Blackhawks: If the media doesn’t have Patrick Kane’s off ice antics to talk about, will they actually cover the team now?

Colorado Avalanche: We all know the limited shelf life of firey over the top NHL coaches like Guy Boucher and Patrick Roy right?

Columbus Blue Jackets: Do we blame Bobrovksy’s four goal opener on moving east, a lack of defenders who play defense, or just a fat pay day?

Dallas Stars: Will Alex Goligoski ever get recognized as top defenseman?

Detroit Red Wings: Is there a player in the system 30 or under who can emerge as the next “face of the franchise”?

Edmonton Oilers: Can prodigal son and eco-warrior Andrew Ference lead his band of merry man-children to liberate a playoff spot from and deliver it to their poor fans?

Florida Panthers: With new ownership and oodles of cap space this year, how wide with the tap be opened for established NHL talent in the future?

Los Angeles Kings: Without a proven backup will Quick get overworked in the regular season?

Minnesota Wild: Will the Wild faithful stay true if the team underperforms this season?

Montreal Canadiens: With the soon to be 35 year old Brian Gionta’s star waning and an expiring contract, will the Habs relocate the C to another jersey possibly before moving him?

Nashville Predators: Barry Trotz entered the season the NHL’s longest tenured head coach, will he end the season in his current position?

New Jersey Devils: With the leagues oldest team, and all but one of the free agents brought in this season over 30, does this franchise have a path to the future?

New York Islanders: The Islanders took a big step forward last year climbing into the playoffs and battling Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, can Tavares and Hamonic make themselves household names this year?

New York Rangers: How long will it take Marc Staal, Brad Richards and the rest of the blueshirts to adapt to Alain Vigneault’s system?

Ottawa Senators: Captain Spezza, with Bobby Ryan, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowen and Craig Anderson are more than enough to get this team to the second round of the playoffs right?

Philadelphia Flyers: Who will lead the Flyers in the three categories that have defined the team in recent seasons: missed games, PIMS and suspensions?

Phoenix Coyotes: Is Mike Ribeiro the right centerpiece for the teams offense or just another free agent that will do just ok and move on?

Pittsburgh Penguins: This is the year that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both healthy right? Right?

San Jose Sharks: Will Bruan, Vlasic, and Hertl emerge to form the new core of this team with Logan Couture?

Saint Louis Blues: Does this team have enough scoring talent and the right coach to take advantage of it?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Does Steve Yzerman who wants fighting out of the game have a punchers chance of seeing his team in the playoffs any time soon?

Toronto Maple Leafs: When the Olympic break rolls around will we be asking where they will find a center, or marveling at Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri as a one two punch?

Vancouver Canucks: With a new coach and system in John Tortorella and a general manager Mike Gillis, who has to be fighting for his own job, how much of the current roster will still be in place after the trade deadline?

Washington Capitals: We can all agree that Alex Ovechkin is good for 50+ goals this season, and Mikhail Grabovski will set a personal high in at least one offensive category right?

Winnipeg Jets: With Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian, and more in full stride, the biggest question about this team is once again in the crease isn’t it?

The NHL Draft isn’t a day where easy grades for all 30 teams can be made. Some moves do standout though and the teams that make them deserve to be singled out.

Losers:

Colorado Avalanche: Not only did they deliberately pass on a franchise quality defenseman in Seth Jones, the defense they took later in the draft lacks upside. Most look to be fringe NHL players who will likely never play above bottom pairing quality. Nathan MacKinnon is undoubtedly a quality player, but those outside the Avalanche war room are largely scratching their heads today.

Boston Bruins: After Nathan Horton’s announcement that he would go to free agency, and then rumors surfacing of Tyler Seguin’s availability, the Bruins not only failed to replace their departing top line right wing, or trade his rights for a draft pick or another players rights they didn’t do much to appear competitive this offseason. After receiving due criticism that the front office was failing to compete the summer they won the Stanley Cup, it appear the same is true this year. While Chicago, New Jersey, Toronto, The Islanders and the Canucks all made moves that address current or near future talent and salary cap needs, the Bruins sat on their hands. Arguably by publicly attacking Tyler Seguin’s professionalism they even poisoned their own well if they do decide to trade him.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Clearly the Lightning leadership have great faith in the defense they drafted last year. That draft class is highlighted by their tenth overall pickSlater Keokkoek who in the last three OHL season has played a total of 68 games, only two of which were in the most recent season. Or perhaps it is Radko Gudas that inspires their faith in their defensive talent pool. I can’t think of another reason for a team that has finished 26th and 30th in goals against the last two seasons, to fail to draft a single defenseman they also failed to trade for an NHL ready or veteran defenseman.

Winners:

New Jersey Devils: The Devils opened the day with Lou Lamoriello swindling Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis out of Cory Schneider. That one move to solidify the post Martin Brodeur era means any NHL regulars who turn up out of this years draft are icing on the cake. They also got the NHL’s best father son moment when Martin Brodeur got to call his sons name at the NHL draft picking up Anthony Brodeur in the seventh round of Shattuck Saint Mary’s.

Chicago BlackHawks: On and off the draft floor the BlackHawks took care of business this weekend. They traded away David Bolland for two picks in this years draft and one in next years to the Toronto Maple Leafs, they then moved Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets and picked up an additional two picks. They resigned Bryan Bickell who was second on the team in scoring over their run to the Cup. At the end of the first round they picked up Ryan Hartman a veteran of the USNDT in the USHL, and well known pest.

New York Islanders: The Islanders did some of their addition by subtraction this weekend. Swiss left wing Nino Niederreiter was clearly unhappy with the Islanders brass, and they with him. In moving him for Minnesota Wild they get a potential problem out of the system and pick of a physical, aggressive forward who will force opposing defenses to double check before grabbing the puck. Perhaps their two best pickups at the draft were Eamon McAdam, and Stephon Williams. The two goalies project as starters. McAdam’s athleticism is cheered, and Williams led Minnesota State at Mankato to the Frozen Four tournament as part of roster that had just three NHL draft picks on it. On top of the crease they drafted Ryan Pulock, a hard shooting, right handed thick set defenseman with a rep for skating well and hitting hard.

The NHL’s Entry draft is right around the corner. With only 30 general manager positions in the NHL there’s always four guys and gals waiting to take advantage of a failure. For some general managers the way to keep themselves employed is to get it right, Peter Chiarelli and Ken Holland are currently on that path. For others, like Glen Sather and Mike Gillis, simply filling the seats most nights appears to be enough. For others a constant coaching carousel is the ticket to maintaining a Teflon exterior. For still others a perpetual chain of blockbuster trades that serve as a reset button for bad drafting or non-development.

But the gentlemen in this list are all on the hot seat, having dodge enough bullets to level a small arena.

George McPhee – Washington Capitals.

Personally I’m baffled as to how GMGM is still employed. He’s iced a team that’s consistently near or at the cap, that can’t seem to get out of first gear in the post season. With the amount of talent on the rosters there should be at least one or two Stanley Cup Finals appearances. Since 1997 when McPhee took over the Capitals, the team has failed to make the playoffs in one third of the seasons played. They failed to make it out of the first round in three additional years. The sixth coach patrols the bench under McPhee’s tenure, and yet the team still can’t go anywhere. The 2009-10 season saw the Capitals rack up 121 points in the regular season and get stomped out of the playoffs in the first round by the eighth place Montreal Canadians. If draft doesn’t yield one or two players that make an impact next season, one has to wonder how much longer Ted Leonis will tolerated flashy mediocrity. With the leagues realignment slotting them into an eight team division with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers, the resurgent New York Islanders, and the plucky Columbus Blue Jackets for the next three season or more easy victories against the former Southeast division paper tigers will be a much rarer thing.

Doug Wilson – San Jose Sharks

The Sharks seem to have been on the cusp of greatness for a decade. Yet they can’t seem to get it done in the post season. Patrick Marleau holds nearly every regular season record on the teams books, and in the post season becomes the living example of “hockey isn’t played on paper”. Joe Thornton has won major awards, continues to be one of the NHL’s best faceoff men, and has only begun to figure out the post season in the last two or maybe three trips.

In the ten years since Wilson was hired, what has the team done? In the regular season everything, in the post season not a damn thing. They’ve been sliding slowly down the division rankings each season. In the three conference final appearances (the last three years ago) they have a total of three wins. Two of those wins came with a largely inherited roster back in the 2003-2004 season, and one appearance they were swept, and a single win in the most recent. Only one of those three conference finals defeats came at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.

With an aging and expensive core of players, and a declining salary cap, it is likely that without scoring big in the draft or at the latest free agency, the chum used to get this school in order will be Doug Wilson.

Paul Holmgren – Philadelphia Flyers

While Holmgren has been one of the most exciting general managers to watch in the way he maneuvers the trade market, his success rate is a bit iffy in all other regards. Several of the big free agents and trade pieces have failed to deliver in any meaningful way. Pronger was signed to a long term deal despite a history of injuries and suspension and is retired in all but name. Ilya Bryzgalov and just about every other goalie to land in the Flyers crease under Holmgren can be grade downwards from really bad to unspeakable. The only real exception to that is the 2012-13 Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who was traded away for the 4th round pic that turned into Anthony Stolarz, the 2nd round pick that was used for Taylor Leier, and one more fourth rounder in the 2013 draft. As a goalie, Stolarz is likely 3-4 years from the NHL, and Leier had a solid but unspectacular season for the Winterhawks playing with likely top pick Seth Jones.

The health disaster that has been the Flyers blueline in recent years has been compounded by the addition of questionably talented blueliners like Schenn, and the doubts reinforced by the acquisition of Streit for both a high dollar amount and long term for a 35+ contract. The 11th pick is unlikely to get an impact defenseman, unless it is used to trade for someone, and while other teams struggle with the salary cap, the Flyers even after buying out Briere seem to have built themselves a whole prison planet for their cap situation.

Darcy Regier – Buffalo Sabres

When Terry Pegula bought the Buffalo Sabres he promised a change in the status quo. In that time, things have changed. The team has spent more money and gotten worse. Last season we saw the end of the NHL’s longest running coaches tenure as Lindy Ruff was banished from The Isle of Misfit Toys. NHL newcomer Ron Rolston was brought up from the AHL to coach the team. Wilson isn’t just short on NHL experience as he never played above the ECHL, he’s short on head coaching experience of any kind. In 2009-10 the US National Under 17 roster was under his stewardship, and they failed to make the playoffs. The next year he took over the Rochester Americans who bowed out in the first round of the AHL playoffs. With less than two hundred games as a head coach of any kind he was dropped into the NHL, and failed to spin straw into gold.

The rosters that Regier has assembled don’t bear up under much scrutiny either, nor does the inability to land free agents. John Scott, Steve Ott and Ville Leino were three of last years additions to the team, and just from looking at them it is hard to imagine what he was trying to accomplish. To the best anyone can remember the biggest accomplishment for each was Ott: limiting himself to two game misconducts, Scott: concussing another player and playing three games were he hit double digits in minutes, Leino; playing more games than Rick Dipietro.

Most damning of all is the fact that in the last six season, four times the team failed to qualify for the post season, and the other two times the team lost in the first round. In that time the teams scoring has eroded and the defense has gone south. With two first rounders and two second rounders and a top ten pick, the teams fortunes can change, if Regier and company can manage to draft well he might retain his job.

He didn’t help his creditability much by failing to move more than two name players at the deadline after just short of calling it a firesale. He had to keep part of Pominville’s salary, and the players he got back in these transactions include a goalie who couldn’t steal a roster spot from the chronically injured netminders in Minnesota, and an unexciting Johan Larsson.

The Canucks have traded Marco Sturm and Mikkeal Samuelsson to the Florida Panthers for David Booth, Steve Reinprecht and a 2013 3rd round pick. The Canucks are picking up a spot on the roster as Reinprecht is currently playing in the AHL for over two million a year.

While neither team is off to the start they want, and lack consistency there are almost certainly more reasons than just a shakeup in the lineups for both teams.  Mike Gillis was recently on the radio to respond to an incredibly ill informed editorial.  Roberto Luongo is off to one of his well documented poor Octobers, which for those who haven’t done the math is one of the two shortest months of the season. He’s still managed to have great Vezina worthy seasons. He also turned in two shutouts against the Stanley Cup winners last spring and ended with a Sv% better than the two previous cup winning goalies. With the extra two million in pay going to the AHL and only half a million less being paid out in Vancouver, obviously this isn’t about the money in Vancouver.

Dale Tallon’s club looses one of the longest tenured members of the Sunrise team. Tallon traded out a contract with four seasons left for two guys who will be unrestricted free agents at about the same price tag. So what gives? There has been conjecture that Sturm isn’t yet healthy. If he is great, paired with Weiss he’s capable of 20+ goals, and can play even strength, powerplay and shorthanded. Sturms work ethic can’t be questioned, but his health can. Multiple surgeries, multiple long stretches on the shelf.

Tallon has been anything but shy in adding free agents to the Panthers adding Upshall, Jovanovski, and Kopecky among others this year. A look at who is currently unsigned for next season and do for unrestricted free agency might just provide a look at who is on their radar. The top of the food chain has four mouth watering, fan energizing choices from all three areas of the ice. Pekka Rinne is one of the best goalies on the planet. He’s had a huge hand in the success of the Nashville Predators over the last two seasons, with a team on the upswing with vision he could put a contender over the top. Up front is Alex Semin. Enigmatic, occasionally displaying less than ideal work ethic; sure, immensely talented yes, yes and yes. Just as talented, and even more complete is Zach Parise, presently the captain in the soon to be Brodeurless New Jersey Devils and may be the most interesting UFA to be in the NHL. Currently patrolling the net in front of Rinne is one of the most talented and underrated defensemen in the NHL. While he’s largely in the shadow of Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne in Music City Suter is not the type of defenseman who comes along every day and would easily be the number one defenseman in about 25 NHL cities.

16: One team has a coach who knows what the adjustments that need to be made after a loss are, the other one says “it doesn’t matter”.

15: Patrice Bergeron who has scored at least once goal in each round has yet to score against the Canucks.

14: The hockey gods are not kind to the arrogant, note that the Canucks tried to sell their parade broadcast rights before game six.

13: Between injuries and suspensions the Canucks are missing Mason Raymond, Dan Hamuis and Aaron Rome.

12: Game 7 will be the 100th playoff game of Zdeno Chara.

11: This is the twentieth anniversary of Mark Recchi’s first Cup winning year.

10: The most popular player on the ice will be Vancouver native Milan Lucic.

9: Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis has never won a championship at any level.

8: Only seven of twenty five President’s Trophy winning teams have won the Stanley Cup.

7: Of the President’s Trophy winning teams to win the Stanley Cup, none have collected the Stanley Cup in their first President’s Trophy win.

6: There really is a conspiracy against the Canucks, the comments by “keepthesonics” over at Puck Daddy prove it all.

5: The goalie with the better regular season stats has won the last three Cups.

4: The Canucks have not scored back to back powerplay goals in this series.

3: Only four teams have won the Cup while being outscored, none with a deficit as large as the Canucks currently is.

2: Claude Julien has won coach of the year in the NHL and the AHL.

1:  It is the anniversary 6/17/2007 of the “reassigning” of Dave Lewis away from head coaching duties.

 

Like many hockey observers I’ve been puzzled by the Vancouver Canucks for a quite some time. They have a solid amount of talent. They even assembled some pretty impressive depth. What mystified me for most of the last week or two is how they could have assembled so many misfits and insensible boors in one place.

One of the Sedin’s went on a clearly well rehearsed rant the other day about what a talking head said about him and his dear twin. Well, guess what? When you’re an athlete or other entertainer the people who’s job it is to dissect the performance of your branch of entertainment will occasionally do something other than pat you on the head and say “good boy”, especially when you’ve earned a swat in the head. Anyone who can take shots at the maturity of another adult but who together has held up NHL franchises not once but twice by refusing to play without your twin brother has no basis for questioning other peoples maturity. Clearly there’s nothing in the world more offensive than a pop culture reference to describe the play of more than twelve million dollars worth of not very much. Personally I’d have gone with Flora and Fauna Addams, but that’s just me.

Riding shotgun with the Insecurity Twins is a player who actually bit another player during a scrum. He then claims he didn’t bite him or that it wasn’t intentional. Somehow he didn’t get suspended. Ruutu and Avery among others would love to get that leeway.

The Aaron Rome hit speaks for itself, and I’ve covered it in previous posts. In summary at best it was a case of a mental lapse. Most likely it was the arrogance this team has shown from the word go. Functionally it doesn’t matter, except to Nathan Horton who was knocked cold by a disgusting lack of sportsmanship, his family, the Boston Bruins, their fans, and of course the millions of people who have come to loathe this iteration of the Vancouver Canucks.

The latest is of course the waffling of the Canucks goalie on his statements regarding the man likely to beat him for another Vezina trophy.  First he claims to he would have made the save on the one goal Thomas allowed. Which brings you to wonder how he could possibly have allowed 12 goals on less than sixty shots in the previous two games. Anyone who’s had the chance to peruse the stats for the two goalies has to ask themselves if Luongo’s graps of reality would be helped with a little less time spent on his well oiled locks.  Tim Thomas not only has better career regular season numbers than Roberto Luongo but also has better career playoff stats. This is no doubt surprising to anyone who only looked at or heard his comments given that Luongo is claiming to be a better goalie. Not only is the Vezina winner consistently better in both the regular and post season he’s consistently improved upon his regular season numbers in the playoffs, this is not something anyone well informed could say about Luongo’s own post season adventures.

But the on ice arrogance of the Canucks should surprise no one. The front office is clearly culpable in crafting this masterpiece of moral ambiguity. Just before the series started the favorite hatchet man, drinking buddy, and advice guru of General Manager Mike Gillis penned an opus declaiming the evil aligned against Vancouver’s brave warriors. I’m hardly a fan of Colin Campbell (go search his name or ‘wheel of justice’ in the search box) but it was amazingly coincidental that Tony Baloney dropped this article just days after the Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in years? Neither Campbell or the office of discipline have shown themselves to be friends of the Boston Bruins over the past few years. One wonder what he and they would have spun up had another team advanced.